Sunday, October 10, 2010

Why are Canadians so nice?

Connor and Ruth were late.

“They’re not coming,” H said.

“They’re Canadian,” I said. “They’ll make good on their reservation.”

They arrived at Fern Forest about seven, having gone to North Conway for some shopping. Connor is one of those rare guys, an artist who likes to cook and shop. No wonder Ruth fell in love with him.

H and I had just finished supper and offered to make them a dinner reservation. They said they’d had a late lunch and had brought some snacks they’d eat in the treehouse and, since they’d been in the car for several hours, they didn’t feel like going back out. H had to go to Burlington to play hockey, so I offered wine or beer. Ruth had water; Connor accepted a beer. I had an après dinner shot of bourbon.

Ruth has a wide smile that made me want to hug her as soon as I met her. Connor is handsome and compact and to my offer of cheese and crackers said, “Oh, we’re fine. Don’t bother with food.” I served cheese and crackers anyway, and they seemed happy to have them.

Why are Canadians so nice?

While we talked, I discovered that Ruth works in communications for the Canadian government and Connor is creative media advisor in the same building, shooting and editing video of official stuff. They go to work together, have lunch together, and come home together. They met at work—it was the day before Ruth’s birthday--and they were married one year to the day after they met. Neither wanted to talk about what they do in the office. Their jobs pay the rent and allow them to travel on vacation—to Vermont this year and last year for their honeymoon in England and France. Take a look at Connor's photos at I especially like his eye for light and shadow and the curve of a line in the b&w shots. Most of the time he uses a Nikon D90, sometimes a Canon G9, and most of the Ireland shots are with Holga 120 FN / Ilford FP4 Plus—for those of you who know about these things.

Surprisingly, Connor doesn’t play hockey, the national sport. He’s a self-proclaimed ankle skater, and generally he doesn’t get near water—wet or frozen. If you know anything about Ottawa, you know about the canal that weaves through this capital city of Canada. The Rideau Canal was one of the great engineering feats of the 19th century, requiring the construction of 24 dams and 46 locks. In the winter, the canal freezes over and becomes the longest skating rink in the world.

When he was a tot, Connor’s parents took him out onto the ice on a frosty Sunday afternoon. To keep the ice from buckling, holes are drilled—holes that used to be little boy size. Connor fell through and was up to his neck when his mom grabbed him, wrapped him in his dad’s coat, and ran for the nearest house to warm him up. The story made the papers, and the holes were reduced in diameter so children wouldn’t fall through, and bright orange circles were painted around them. I think they should call them “Connor holes.”

I haven’t spent much time in Canada, even though we’re just two hours from Montreal. H and I stayed at an inn in Le Vieux one year, and it was lovely, but I felt a little frumpy in the city. My hair wasn’t died red, I don’t smoke, I don’t wear fur, and high heels hurt my feet. H and I drove to Toronto a few years ago, but all we saw was the Hockey Hall of Fame. Farther west, we stopped in Parry Sound and dropped in on Bobby Orr’s father—we really did, and he’s a sweet guy. He didn’t invite us in, but he stood on the stoop in his slippers and talked to H for twenty minutes—the most thrilling twenty minutes of his life.

“If I go to Ottawa, what should I wear?” I asked them. They were both wearing jeans and sneakers. (Actually, they'd taken off their sneakers in the mud room and were sock-footed.)

“What you have on is fine,” Connor said. I had on jeans and Birkenstocks. I guess Ottawa is more my style than Montreal.

I’m still not sure why Canadians are such nice people. Connor said maybe it’s education. In Canada, school children study the history and culture of other countries, and it seems that in the U.S., children study only America, so we have a narrower world view. That could be a factor.

In the last decade, especially when GW was president, many Americans traveling abroad put Canadian flags on their backpacks because of ill will toward the U.S. Connor says that when he travels to Europe, he doesn’t boast the Canadian flag because he doesn’t want people to think he’s an American posing as a Canadian. I had no idea we’d been found out.

For a dozen years there has been a movement—The Second Vermont Republic—to have Vermont withdraw from the United States and become an independent country. We haven’t declared independence yet I imagine because no one has come up with a way to sustain ourselves financially—skiing and maple syrup only go so far. But what if we became part of Canada? Being so close to Quebec, it would make sense. I’d even brush up on my French. It’s not that I don’t like living in the States—don’t get me wrong—it’s just that it would be a pleasure to live among people like Connor and Ruth who are just so nice.

(Portrait of Ruth taken by Connor. Photo of Connor on Treehouse steps taken by Ruth. Other photos by yours truly.)

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